A university discriminated against an Indian lecturer on the basis of race after failing to reappoint her to a job she had held for five years, replacing her with a white candidate with no experience in the role.
Dr. Kajal Sharma was one of only two senior lecturers at the University of Portsmouth not reappointed to their jobs when their contracts expired, while 11 of 12 white colleagues were successful, an employment tribunal heard.
In a damning verdict, the tribunal ruled that Sharma was the victim of unwitting discrimination and described the selection process as “tainted by racial discrimination”.
The fact that she was not reappointed to her position was “extraordinary” and should have raised questions. “Instead, the university ignored the fact that a senior member of the academic staff who was a BAME woman was not reappointed to a post.”
It was learned at the Southampton hearing that Sharma took up her job in early 2016 as associate head for organization studies and human resources management in the business and law faculty of the University of Portsmouth on a five-year contract.
She told the tribunal that she had a “difficult” relationship with her manager, Dr Gary Rees, and complained a number of times about the way she had been treated. In one example, she said he had asked her to do university work in the immediate aftermath of her father’s death and had not adequately supported her while she cared for her seriously ill son.
The tribunal was also told that Rees actively encouraged a white colleague to gain an additional qualification, but did not support Sharma when she suggested doing the same.
When her contract was about to be renewed, she was not informed that her job had been advertised. Sharma reapplied for the position and made the final shortlist of two, but after appearing before a panel that included Rees, she lost out to a rival candidate he supported.
In a subsequent freedom of information request to the university, Sharma found that since 2018, 12 academic senior management vacancies had arisen in which the incumbent had reapplied for the position, and 11 of those were reappointed. All 12 were white. She was the only BAME candidate to reapply for their post and not succeed.
Ruling in Sharma’s favour, the tribunal found that Rees had treated Sharma “in a way that we believed was different from the way he would have treated others, in areas such as support for her father’s death and the illness of her child”.
“We conclude that his involvement in the recruitment process and his subconscious bias means that the plaintiff’s failure to recruit was an act of racial discrimination.” A hearing will take place at a later date to decide on the compensation.
Attempts were made to contact both Rees and Sharma. A university spokesperson said: “There are no excuses for racial discrimination at the University of Portsmouth. The University recognizes the strength of the Labor Court ruling in this case and expects every member of our community, without exception, to uphold the University’s values.
“The university is carefully studying the ruling and cannot comment further while the lawsuit is pending.”